Teaching on the Gospel of John by Rev. Dr. Nadine Burton

“Jesus Appears to His Disciples”

John Chapter 20

The scene is at the tomb on the first day of the week, which is Sunday. “The Lord’s Day, which is the day of his resurrection, became the Christian holy day in place of the Old Testament-Jewish tradition Sabbath (Saturday).” Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb and sees that the stone had been removed from the tomb where Jesus’ body was laid. “In all the canonical gospels, the resurrection itself is not narrated, but happens “off stage” – when the narrative curtain opens, the tomb is already empty.”[i]  She ran and told Peter and the other disciple whom Jesus loved that they had taken the body, and no one knew where they took him. Peter and the other disciple ran to the tomb. The other disciple looked into the tomb and saw that it was empty; he did not go into the tomb. When Peter arrived at the tomb, he entered and saw the linen and the cloth that had been around Jesus’ head rolled up in a place by itself. “There is something significant about the arrangement of the left-behind grave clothes. Their neat arrangement, and the fact that the empty tomb was not the work of grave robbers contrasts with the raising of Lazarus, who needed to be unbound.”[ii]

The other beloved disciple came into the tomb and saw and believed. “Boring and Craddock calls the race to the tomb an authentic struggle for church leadership – Peter being, Easter Hero and  the traditional leader of what was becoming mainstream apostolic Christianity, and the beloved disciple, a leader of the competitive stream of Christianity, and the Johannine community’s favored one.”[iii] In addition, both Peter and the beloved disciple saw the same things, but only the beloved disciple believed. “Faith is not a matter of evidence, each saw the same facts, each had the same data. But only one believed. The beloved disciple is again represented as the faithful witness; what he has seen is important for the foundation of the community’s faith.”[iv]  Up until that point they did not believe the scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead. “For the fourth gospel theology, resurrection faith is supported by rereading the Old Testament as illumined by the insight provided by the post-Easter gift of the Holy Spirit.”[v]

The disciples returned to their homes (where they were staying in Jerusalem), but Mary stayed at the tomb, weeping. She looked into the tomb again. This time, she saw two angels, one at the head and one at the foot of where Jesus was laid. They asked her why she was weeping. Mary said, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have taken him. She then turned around and saw Jesus standing there. Mary did not know it was Jesus. He also asked her why she was weeping. Thinking he was the gardener, she asked where they took Jesus’ body. Jesus said to her, “Mary!”  She turned around and said, “Rabbouni!” which means teacher. “Mary had previously seen the stone rolled away, the empty tomb, two angels, and the risen Jesus himself, but that did not produce the response of personal faith. The personal faith of the address of the risen Lord himself, the one who calls his sheep by name, generates authentic faith that overwhelmingly ‘evidence’ including visions of angels, could not.[vi]  He asked her not to touch him as he had not yet ascended to his father. He told her to “Go instead to my brothers and tell them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Mary went and announced that she had seen the Lord and gave them the instructions that Jesus told her to share with them.

That evening, Jesus came and stood among the disciples. They were locked behind closed doors because of fear of the Jews. When Jesus made his appearance, he stood among them and said, “Peace be with You.”  He showed them his hands, his feet, and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw him. Jesus said to them, “Peace be with you. As the father has sent me, so I send you.” The resurrection was a corporate reality involving a mission to the world. “Our sending is an extension of God’s own sending Jesus, who incorporated the disciples into the mission. Jesus, too was sent; God is the primal missionary. The church’s work is an extension of God’s own work.”[vii]  After this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven, and if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” This is the only reference to forgiveness in the gospel of John. As the sending into the world and the reception of the Holy Spirit applies to all the disciples in this scene, so the power of forgiveness is also given to the believers as a group, primarily as a matter of the internal life of the church that requires forgiveness.”[viii]  God sent his son Jesus, and forgives us through Jesus “the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” 

We call him “Doubting Thomas.” According to John, Thomas was not with the disciples when they saw the first appearance of Jesus. When the others tried to explain to him that they had seen the Lord, he said that unless he sees the mark of the nails in his hands and put his finger in the mark of the nails and his hands in his side, he would not believe. One week later, Jesus made another appearance to the disciples. This time, Thomas was with them. Jesus came among them and said, “Peace with you.”  He told Thomas to put his finger in his side and showed him his hands. He then said, “do not doubt but believe.”  Thomas answered him, “My Lord and My God.”   

Jesus asked him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have come to believe.” So herein Craddock and Boring share, “There are those who see and do not believe, who see and believe, who do not see and do not believe, who do not see and believe. Thomas’ problem is not that he is a tough-minded skeptic who will not believe until he has seen with his own eyes, but that he insists on submitting the revelation that has come in Christ to his own criteria.”[ix]  Do you think Thomas actually put his finger in Jesus’ side or touched the nail print with his hands?

This chapter closes with the affirmation that Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in the book. These things are written so that we might come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of the living God, and through believing, we might come to have life in his name. “The signs were done for the benefit of disciples, to deepen and clarify their faith, not to convince the unbelieving world. For John, faith is not merely a logical deduction based on observing Jesus’ miraculous signs.”[x]


[i] Ibid.

[ii] Ibid., 356.

[iii] Ibid., 355.

[iv] Ibid., 356.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid, 357.

[vii] Ibid., 358.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Ibid., 359.

[x] Ibid.